Roudanez, Louis C.
Louis C. Roudanez
Louis Charles Roudanez started the first black daily newspaper in the United States in which he championed slavery's abolition, universal suffrage, desegregation, and ownership of plantations by ex-slaves. A successful physician, Roudanez was revered for his education, gentility, and wealth by both whites and blacks in New Orleans, Louisiana.
In the 1800s, the political and cultural climate of New Orleans differed from the rest of the United States. New Orleans had a population of free black Creoles, or free people of color, who enjoyed privileges that were not afforded to slaves or most freed blacks. Most of the black Creoles were of French descent and spoke French as their first language. Some were of Spanish and Portuguese descent. They comprised about 10 percent of Louisiana's black population and were, for the most part, affluent and educated and owned an estimated $20 million of New Orleans' wealth. Some were radical activists inspired by the French Revolution whom New Orleans Tribune editor Jean-Charles Houzeau called, "the vanguard of the African population of the United States."
Louis Charles Roudanez was born in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, to Louis Roudanez, a French merchant, and Aimee Potens, a free woman of color. Listed as white on his baptismal registry, Roudanez was baptized as Catholic by the president of the College of New Orleans. The registry also lists Roudanez's birth year as 1823. For reasons unknown, Roudanez and his family always stated that 1826 was the year of his birth, and on the 1870 Federal Census form for New Orleans, Roudanez's age is listed as forty-four.
As a child, Roudanez was schooled in New Orleans and worked in Hill and Cooley's notion store. He later made a small fortune in his municipal bond investments then went on to earn a medical degree in 1853 at the University of Paris, which was then considered to be the world's best medical school.
After the French Revolution of 1789, physicians became one of the most politically progressive professional groups in France. Living in France during the Revolution of 1848 and having French revolutionaries as professors instilled in Roudanez an idealism that he would be both praised and vilified for in later years. Many foreign students of color who studied there often stayed since France was a much friendlier place to people of color, but Roudanez returned to the United States. His friends encouraged him to live in the North first, so he moved to New Hampshire and earned his second medical degree at Dartmouth College in 1857.
Begins Medical Career and L'Union Newspaper
Roudanez returned to New Orleans, where he would live for the rest of his life, and began a successful medical practice in which he treated both black and white patients. Roudanez married Celie Saulay on September 15, 1857. They had eight children. Two of his sons became doctors and a third became a dentist. Another one of Roudanez's sons attended Louis le Grand College and lived in New Orleans his entire life. Three of his daughters lived in Paris; one of them was the head of a girls' school.
In April 1862 when south Louisiana came under Union occupation, the rights of the free black population were rolled back. Among other restrictions, the Union army required all blacks, even free people of color, to carry passes when in public. Roudanez and a group that was comprised mostly of black Creoles began L'Union, a bi-weekly French-language publication, aimed at the black Creole population, to campaign against slavery and for their own voting rights. On December 23, 1862, L'Union became a tri-weekly.
- Born in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana on June 12
- Earns M.D. at the University of Paris
- Earns a second medical degree at Dartmouth College; returns to New Orleans and establishes medical practice; marries Celie Saulay
- Helps launch L'Union
- L'Union ceases publication; launches the New Orleans Tribune
- Refuses to endorse Republican ticket; runs independent slate of candidates; Tribune ceases publication
- Becomes involved with unification movement
- Meets with leaders of Republican Party after a decade of not speaking to them
- Dies in New Orleans on March 11
The paper was run by a board of directors that was elected by shareholders every six months. Those working on the paper received death threats. Often quoted in the paper was the French revolutionary philosopher, Lamar-tine, whom L'Union called "the Bard of liberty." L'Union promoted the literary heritage of black Creoles, but the exclusivity of a French-language paper widened the chasm between this small, elite group of Catholics and the much larger English-speaking group of black American Protestants, whose lives were more greatly affected by slavery and racism.
L'Union also called for suffrage for free black men, but stopped short of calling for voting rights for ex-slaves until near the end of the paper's run. The paper was printed in both French and English starting on July 9, 1863 and a year later, L'Union, realizing that the struggle for voting rights must include ex-slaves, publicly called for their suffrage. Five days afterwards on July 19, 1864, L'Union folded.
Launches New Orleans Tribune
Roudanez bought the paper's printing equipment and started the New Orleans Tribune two days after L'Union's demise. The paper was published twice a week until October 4, 1864, when it was published every day except Monday. The Tribune was the first black daily paper in the United States and was a stronger publication than L'Union, with a more radical vision. Historian David C. Rankin said the Tribune was "perhaps the most brilliant newspaper to appear in the entire South during Reconstruction." One year after it debuted, the Republican Party adopted the Tribune as its own official publication.
Paul Trévigne was the original editor of the Tribune, but in November 1864, Roudanez brought on board Belgian astronomer Jean Charles Houzeau, who was the northern correspondent for L'Union, as editor-in-chief. Under Houzeau, the paper shed much of the perceived elitism on the pages of L'Union and the early issues of the Tribune. Gone were the literary sections and international news. But Houzeau was still paternalistic: Houzeau nicknamed himself "Cham" after the biblical father of slaves and blacks. Roudanez knew the asset that Houzeau was, despite his ego and arrogance, to the paper and increased his salary in order to keep him at the Tribune.
Those who ran the Tribune championed a bold agenda during a time when even the most radical abolitionists were hesitant to call for suffrage. The Tribune not only demanded voting rights for both free and freed blacks, but the paper demanded that blacks be allowed to serve on juries and called for integration of schools, restaurants, and theatres. The Tribune also called for the ownership of plantations to be transferred to ex-slaves and low wage workers who toiled in their fields. In their May 1, 1866 issue, the editors of the Tribune even called for women's suffrage, but this was the only time that the paper did so. Most of the pieces in these two newspapers had no bylines, but it is widely believed that Roudanez wrote at least some of the articles as the white, conservative press praised Roudanez in some of his obituaries for his writing.
Joins Unification Movement
Unlike the other Republican newspapers, the New Orleans Tribune refused to endorse Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election for his timidity on suffrage, and the publication was also quite critical of the Republican Party on both the state and federal levels because of its lack of commitment to the rights of blacks.
During the 1868 State Republican Convention, the Union Republicans packed the Central Committee with their own people, and Illinois carpetbagger Henry Clay Warmoth won the Republican nomination by two votes. Warmoth chose Oscar Dunn, a former barber whose father was an ex-slave, as his running mate. Roudanez was incensed as he felt that carpetbaggers were political opportunists. Houzeau pleaded with Roudanez to support the Warmoth candidacy so that the Republican Party would not split and lose the election. Roudanez ran an independent ticket of candidates for governor (James Taliaferro), lieutenant governor (Francis Dumas) and other various offices. Both candidates for lieutenant governor, Dunn and Dumas had served on the board of L'Union. Houzeau soon resigned from the Tribune.
The Central Committee denounced Roudanez for running an independent slate and expelled all of its members who were loyal to him. The Republican press, both black and white, hotly rebuked Roudanez. Knowing that the Warmoth ticket would win, Roudanez withdrew the independent candidates right before election day.
One week after the votes were tabulated, the New Orleans Tribune stopped publication. Roudanez's prediction about Warmoth was accurate: Warmoth fought integration of schools and public services, and his administration was one known for corruption. Warmoth was impeached, and P. B. S. Pinchback, a black carpetbagger who had replaced Oscar Dunn as lieutenant governor when Dunn died in office, became acting governor.
The Tribune briefly returned in light of the corruption in the governor's office, but the paper was unsuccessful, and Louis Charles Roudanez, who over the years had sunk over $30,000 into the Tribune, left politics until he became involved with the short-lived Unification Movement of 1873. This movement was independent of the two existing parties, and it attracted many free blacks, including Roudanez. It promised integrated schools, transportation, and other public services. Equal division of elected offices between blacks and whites and the removal of the carpetbaggers from office were also goals. The movement failed as the white population did not like the concessions made to blacks and the freedmen did not trust the organizers.
In January of 1879, Roudanez met with leaders of the Republican Party for dinner in the French Quarter to patch up differences. Roudanez was cordial to both War-moth and Pinchback, who had years before publicly castigated Roudanez for not supporting the Warmoth ticket, but did not return any of Pinchback's praise. The civility did not last long; the fight between the free black men and the careerist compromisers like Pinchback and War-moth was reignited, though not by Roudanez, but by those loyal to him.
Louis Charles Roudanez donated money to charities and was known for accepting any patient, whether or not the patient was able to afford his services. He died on March 11, 1890. In The Daily Crusader, Paul Trévigne eulogized the compassionate doctor: "His name will be added to the galaxy of that brilliant constellation of Louisianans who have, here and abroad, honored their state and their race by their talents and their worth."
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Trévigne, Paul. "Obituary: Louis Charles Roudanez." The Daily Crusader, 11 March 1890. Reprinted in Charles Barthelemy Roussève, The Negro in New Orleans: Aspects of His History and His Literature. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.
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Rouzan, Laura Velina. "A Rhetorical Analysis of Editorials in L'Union and the New Orleans Tribune." Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1989.
Roudanez's 1853 M.D. dissertation is housed at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University.